“All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.”
– James Thurber, author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
In high school gym class, which kind of kid were you? The competitive athlete everyone wanted on their team? The average kid with average abilities? Or were you like me – the last one picked for any team, in any sport?
I’ve never been an athlete, never competed in any sport except when forced to. Because of this, I’ve been surprised to find that I really enjoy running. It’s been a way to get outdoors regularly and an opportunity to get healthy. As I mentioned in a post last month, running has also been a life-changing proving ground for my goal-setting discipline. I’ve learned something about motivation and a little about perseverance. It’s taught me the value of reflecting on the past and the excitement of planning for the future. And even though I’m the slowest of slow runners, it’s been fun to just laugh at myself and enjoy the run.
Heart disease runs in my family. Several of my uncles succumbed to heart attacks or strokes, and a few years ago, my mother underwent coronary bypass surgery. After that happened, I had a vivid revelation. I really wanted to live! That sparked the desire to exercise. In the beginning, I was simply running to ward off an early death.
Even with the extraordinarily powerful motivation of avoiding death, I was so out of shape that at first, running was a bit discouraging. Okay, to be honest, it felt like it was going to put me in my grave. When I wrote about my experience with my first 5K run/walk, I don’t think I mentioned that I did my first runs at night so nobody would hear or see me gasping and stumbling along. It was pretty bad.
Running miles and miles every week really gives you time to savor the past and remember where you’ve come from. I’ve run the trail of childhood memories about our family’s move from New England to Horsepasture, Virginia. I wasn’t thrilled with the location or its hillbilly name, but I enjoyed the warm welcome from our new neighbors – the soft sounds of southern accents, the kindness, and the amazing food. I’ve also jogged along the last couple decades of life with my spouse – the ups and downs of marriage, the wild ride of parenting a son and a daughter, trying to be a great husband and dad. The years have flown by like the miles I’ve run – some are really tough… but some feel great.
Goal-setting and Planning
It’s on my long runs that I’ve had time to make some big, life-changing plans for my life. Like the decision to join Toastmasters and embrace my speaking gifts… and the goal to hike all 71 steep and rugged miles of the Massanutten Trail, one section at a time… and of course the leap of faith to start Hidden Springs Coaching.
When I’m running, I’m often experiencing some level of pain. To get me through the arduous, desperate parts of a run, I’ve taken to imagining wacky alternate realities, just for fun. During one 5K race, I found myself alone on the road – everyone else was out of sight. In my head, I began to hear the voices of sports commentators, as if my run were being televised:
“You know, Pat, it’s gotta be discouraging for Ken Gonyer, being so far behind the pack.”
“Well, Jim, we spoke with Ken before the race, and he’s not in this to compete against the other runners. This is a contest between him and him.”
“And he’s still in it, Pat. You’ve gotta give him credit for hanging in there.”
“That’s right, Jim, it’s about perseverance.”
And then I imagined the scene changing to pictures of me from last year, laying on the couch with a bag of Doritos on my belly, and I heard the voice-over:
“From couch to 5K… no matter how he finishes this race, Ken Gonyer wins….”
Here in my early 40s, that’s how I feel – like a winner. I know where I’ve come from and I know where I’m going. I’m facing fears I’ve run away from for too long. I’ve decided what I want to change and I’m committed to do whatever it takes. Here in 2010, I’m running for life, and I intend to finish well.
Have you figured out what you’re running toward – or away from – and why? Maybe today would be a nice day to take a walk (maybe even a little jog!) and think it through or pray about it. Click “Leave a Comment” to share your thoughts.